The Murat Theater
Thursday, May 20
After a 35-year career built on progression, unexpected twists and a firm commitment to his art, David Bowie didn’t come to town last week and settle for playing his best-known hits. Instead, he did something better: He challenged and rewarded his audience with an eclectic mix of material both new and old.
The casual fan might have wanted to hear “Space Oddity,” “Golden Years” or “Young Americans,” but Bowie didn’t play any of them, preferring lesser-known album cuts and challenging new material. This was no Frampton-style nostalgia tour; this was the work of an artist who still has plenty to say. Plenty of the classics were still there, including “Rebel Rebel,” “The Man Who Sold The World” and “All the Young Dudes,” but his heart was with his recent, brooding material like the excellent “I’m Afraid of Americans” and the Pixies cover “Cactus.” “I’m Afraid of Americans” delivers a subtly subversive message about world politics and debunks the notion that God only waves the red, white and blue, but its complex message either sat well with the crowd or flew over its heads.
Bowie’s upper register has long since left him, a victim of the years, but his impeccable phrasing and emotion are still there. Few can match the expression and intonation he gives a song, so it didn’t matter that he couldn’t hit the glory notes on “Heroes,” for example, because the power and passion outweighed the frailty of his voice.
When Bowie played the then-Deer Creek Music Center in 1990, he was into rearranging and recontextualizing his greatest hits as if they were naughty children who needed to be taught a lesson. This time, he treated them with love and respect. “Under Pressure” and “Ashes to Ashes” received note-for-note reproductions of the album versions, which the sold-out crowd appreciated.
Occasionally, Bowie miscalculated, such as with a Vegas-style treatment of the Velvet Underground’s “White Light, White Heat.” You halfway expected to see the Thin White Duke tossing sweaty scarves into the audience à la Elvis. And “Modern Love,” one of his lesser-quality hits, seemed to pander to the audience’s nostalgia as well. But, for the most part, Bowie treated his audience with respect and affection and they returned it to him tenfold.
And goddamned if he didn’t deliver it all at the end of the show, with “Hang Onto Yourself,” “Suffragette City” and “Ziggy Stardust.” It was pure rock and roll magic from one of the genre’s all-time greatest. There will never be an artist quite like Bowie and few today can still match him. What an honor it was to be there.